(Good Things Utah) – Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid is as common in women as breast cancer, but because many people aren’t familiar with the thyroid, and since the symptoms of hypothyroidism are common, subtle, and may be attributed to aging, many women don’t know they have the condition. But left untreated, it can be serious and lead to other health problems.

One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime. Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.

Women who are middle-aged or older are more likely to have hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism means your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones.

Between ages 35 to 65, about 13 percent of women will have an underactive thyroid, and the proportion rises to 20 percent among those over 65.

“We don’t know why women are more affected than men,” says Kelsey DeSalvo, MD, an endocrinologist at the Intermountain Healthcare Salt Lake Clinic.

“The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the lower front of the neck. Its job is to make thyroid hormones and carry them throughout the body. Thyroid hormones help the body use energy, stay warm, and keep the brain and heart and other organs and muscles functioning,” said Dr. DeSalvo.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism are common in aging and in other diseases or disorders, so they can be difficult to recognize and include

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Cold intolerance 
  • Appetite loss or weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Cardiovascular symptoms like high blood pressure or cholesterol, specifically high LDL.
  • Mental effects similar to depression: difficulty concentrating, memory problems, loss of interest in things you enjoy.
  • Dry skin, brittle nails.
  • Hair may thin or become coarse or brittle. Loss of eyebrow hair on the side close to ears.
  • Changes in menstrual periods. Bleeding may be heavier, more frequent or may stop.
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Slow speech, movement or balance problems in severe cases.

“I felt like I had no energy after work, said Katherine Rodriguez who was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. “At first, I thought maybe I was stressed or didn’t get enough sleep, but the symptoms persisted. My endocrinologist prescribed and fine-tuned my medication, and now I feel like I’m back to normal. I feel happier, more active, and more motivated.”

Dr. DeSalvo recommends having your thyroid checked if you’re having any of the above symptoms or are pregnant or have just had a baby or are over the age of 50. These are times when hormones are changing.

“Pregnant women with undiagnosed or inadequately treated hypothyroidism have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and severe developmental problems in their children,” said Dr. DeSalvo.

Primary care physicians, obstetricians/gynecologists, or even dentists can do an initial thyroid check or test.

For further diagnosis and treatment, see an endocrinologist who specializes in gland and hormone issues and the delicate matter of prescribing the right amount of thyroid medication. Hypothyroidism is typically treated with levothyroxine, which works very well and has virtually no side effects.

Hypothyroidism can lead to an enlarged thyroid gland or goiter on your neck, or the development of smaller thyroid nodules which can become problematic or cancerous.

“Some people can feel thyroid nodules in their neck or see them in the mirror. They typically range from one to six centimeters in size. Thyroid nodules can interfere with swallowing or cause voice changes. The treatment is to remove them if they’re causing problems or if they’re cancerous,” said DeSalvo.

“Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis. Extreme hypothyroidism can put you into a coma or even lead to death,” she added.

According to Dr. DeSalvo, there’s really very little you can do to prevent thyroid issues.

Consuming too little or too much iodine can lead to thyroid problems. In the United States, iodine is added to salt, but sea salt and Kosher salt don’t have iodine.

“Iodine occurs naturally in some foods. There are a lot of thyroid myths on the internet, but iodine won’t help Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune disease that damages the thyroid gland and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism,” she noted.

Visit Intermountain Healthcare to find out more.

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